Comic and prolific writer Dana Gould has seemingly done all that Hollywood has to offer: performing on everything from Kimmel and Conan to HBO, Comedy Central, MADtv and The Daily Show; acting roles stretching back to The Ben Stiller Show, The Nanny, Roseanne, Ellen, Seinfeld and The King of Queens; not to mention scripting, producing and helping voice The Simpsons for seven years and appearing as himself in an episode of Family Guy. No less a figurehead than Patton Oswalt even named Gould the founder of alt-comedy on the Comedians of Comedy Live at the Troubadour DVD.
Between frequent live gigs Gould also has jumped into the podcast arena with his retro-radio The Dana Gould Hour and developed a half-hour comedy for FX, co-starring and co-exec produced by Foo Fighters lead singer Dave Grohl. Like their creator, both projects are shaping up to emphasize the more astute, quirky, slightly neurotic and relentlessly eclectic side of the comedy spectrum.
We talked with Gould about these latest projects:
What led to your decision to create The Dana Gould Hour?
If you're a comedian, it's not mandatory that you have a podcast, but I expect that law will be passed soon. There's no better way to promote yourself, and what is appealing about it is the people who listen to podcasts are very active. They're not what you would call “passive” fans. It's a great way to connect with your audience on a more regular basis.
How do you figure out what your specific niche is going to be?
A lot of people have been saying for a long time, “Why don't you do a podcast?” because I go on a lot of other podcasts as a guest. But I don't just want to do a crappier version of somebody else's show. If you look at the top three podcasts- – Adam Carolla's and Marc Maron's and Chris Hardwick's Nerdist — they're all very, very specific and they're all very, very different.
Adam is doing just like a great radio show. Marc has his own sort of psycho-comedic view, and Nerdist appeals to a sort of brand-defined area of interest. I actually listen to a lot of old radio in the car on Sirius. I listen to Radio Classics a lot, and what I found was nobody was taking advantage of the fact that [podcasts are] audio only; to use a very airy-fairy term, theater of the mind. Nobody takes advantage of the fact that you have a captive listener and can create a whole world in an hour.
I was also really influenced by Joe Frank's In the Dark, which was an amazing show on KCRW back in the mid-'90s that I appeared on once or twice. The way that he would take a spoken-word segment and put music under it and not tell the audience where he was going but sort of lead them, I thought that was really amazing, and that was something that got me pretty excited about it.
The show that I do has a lot of post-production work. It's heavily edited and scored and that, to me, hopefully makes it a little different so it stands out. I know a lot of people structure their podcast so they basically don't have to do any, and I do hours and hours and hours. I edit all of the interviews and I break them into segments. I also have prerecorded interstitial pieces that I put in, and then we put music under everything. It's every other week because I couldn't do it every week.
The great thing about podcasts is that you set the terms. The Pod F. Tompkast is also very post-production-heavy and was also a big influence on me. I think he's monthly. If there's a downside to the Internet — and I can't imagine there ever would be one — people sort of get a false sense that they're entitled to an unending stream of constant, free excellence, and I'm here to break their hearts.
Have you been asking for advice from some of these folks you've mentioned?
I think the more in my own little bubble I am, the more unique it will be. I've got a lot of technical advice from people, but I really do have a strong feeling that if it's not your own thing, there's no reason to do it. What I said about podcasts is, “I finally found a way to catch a break in show business. All I had to do was buy a bunch of equipment, write, produce and perform a show, edit it and then release it myself.”
When you're starting something like this, what's the process of getting the word out?
My big method is to drive past people on Sunset and shout it out the window. It's tricky. There are a finite amount of people who listen to podcasts. New listeners come in slowly, but basically there's a pool of people whose lifestyle and ease with technology makes them prime podcast listeners. Your job is to get the knowledge out to that group. I was helped greatly by pretty regular appearances on Adam Carolla and on other ones around town. And I'm kind of known. Comedy fans are like baseball fans. There are people who go to games, and then there are people who go to spring training. Podcast fans are people who go to spring training.
I think I have a better way of answering your first question: Everybody is trying to plot out their little part of the success pie. Everybody wants their own little area. And what's great about podcasts is that you make your own show business. You create your show; you distribute it to your audience. If your audience likes it, they listen more. If they see you're performing, they come see you perform. If you then charge for the back catalog of your podcast or if you charge a special amount for a live show, they pay that and they become sort of your partner in your career.
I am a big fan of do-it-yourselfers, and I describe it as making your own show business. There's really no middleman to it. It's actually a very punk idea in the sense of workers control the means of production. You don't have to go kiss anybody's ass and you don't take notes that you don't believe in because you're the studio and the network. It's a really pure form of communication between a performer and an audience.
On the opposite side of that, you're also working on your FX comedy.
Because I also need money for food! When we went around with the show, the response was very positive from a lot of places. But FX was the place that sort of was open enough to let the show be what it is. The operating model of FX is they don't use the studio. Everything is in-house. And because of that it's less interference. Louie is a great example that what you get is undistilled.
What is known about the show is Dave Grohl in a rock band trying to get therapy so they don't break up. What else can you say about it?
Being in a band or being in any grown-up situation, it's all marriage microcosms. The Metallica documentary Some Kind of Monster was an influence. Or watching Let It Be and you see the Beatles toward the end, or if you see the documentary about the Pixies tour in '05.
Yeah, these are just about intricate marriages and how they work. In the show the therapist that's working with the band is at a crossroads in his own marriage and life. Which, thank God, is fictional for me. You realize at a certain point a successful relationship is a choice. I think that really fascinates me, the way that people have to navigate these relationships. There's a lot of stuff in there that's funny and also painful and true. Which is where the best comedy comes from. The best comedy comes from when there's a gun to your head.
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